“Goodbye Helvetica” was the conclusion to which Sedley Place Design
came in late 1984, after looking through hundreds of items of German Federal Post Office
printing that had been produced using genuine and imitation Helveticas. The Berlin designers were in the process of developing a new corporate design for Europe’s largest employer (with a staff of 500,000). A functional typeface was needed which would be resilient, economical and distinctive. But finding one was proving difficult.
interpreted the specifications for the new typeface, which needed to have robust characters and be distinguishable, narrow, technically up-to-date and available. The result was the linear sans-serif “PT 55”, which was quickly digitised in regular, italic and bold fonts, using Ikarus, so that in theory it could have been available on all typesetting equipment within a matter of weeks.
In 1986, after lengthy discussions, the Post Office decided to keep its Helveticas as the corporate typeface. So it was back to square one for PT 55.
The first drafts of what later became Meta Normal and Bold in 1985
In 1991, PT was digitised on a Macintosh using Ikarus M, and released as FF Meta that same year. The picture shows the Ikarus interpolation points for the subsequent digitisation of the “post office typeface”, plotted on the paper draft by the font’s designer.
In retrospect one can say that FF Meta was the catalyst for a worldwide trend towards “alternative” sans-serifs
, with text figures, small capitals, numerous ligatures, arrows and brackets. None of the secret favourites of many type designers in the late 1980s and early 1990s – neither Syntax
, nor Polo
, nor Letter Gothic
– had offered such treats before. Even ITC Officina
(#8 on this list) is influenced by Meta, not to mention FF Unit, Amplitude, FF Fago
and several others.